Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Saint Theosteriktos the Confessor, Author of the Small Supplication Canon to the Theotokos

St. Theosteriktos the Confessor (Feast Day - March 17)

Theosteriktos the Confessor, abbot of Pelekete Monastery near Prusa, suffered for the Holy Icons under the impious emperor Constantine Copronymos (741-775). His feast day is February 29th in the Slavic Churches and March 17th in the Greek Churches.

Theosteriktos was born in Triglia of Bithynia and became a monk at a young age at the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, known also as Pelekete Monastery, where he later became abbot. During the persecution of Emperor Constantine V Copronymos, his general in Asia Minor, Michael Lachanodrakon, began a fierce persecution especially against the monastics who venerated the Holy Icons.

On the night of Holy and Great Thursday in 763 the General came to Pelekete Monastery during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Abbot Theosteriktos was celebrating the Divine Liturgy together with 780 monks under him, 70 of which were hieromonks. Suddenly loud knocks at the Gate of the Monastery interrupted the solemn atmosphere, and 2,000 soldiers of the General were outside yelling, causing chills and tremors.

The soldiers broke the Gate with axes and the mob entered the courtyard. General Michael Lachanodrakon rushed into the church with his army and approached the Abbot. Violently the General took the Holy Chalice and smashed it on the ground, and punched the Abbot in the face. This resulted in a fight between the monks and the soldiers.

Seeing this, the Abbot commanded his children to retreat, and the General handed him a paper, saying angrily:

"Take this and sign immediately against the idols which you call icons, otherwise we will slaughter all of you. It is a decree of the pious King Constantine V."

"You should rather say Copronymos",* said Abbot Theosteriktos. "We will never sign against the Sacred Icons, which we honorably venerate."

Upon the holy Abbot saying this, the General angrily commanded the slaughter to begin. Within a few minutes, four hundred monks had fallen dead.

Following this, the General gave another order: to tie the rest with chains and take them out to the courtyard. He then ordered a fire ignited at every corner of the Monastery for everything to be reduced to ashes. Thus the beautiful Monastery was reduced by the flames of fire.

The captured monks were then led to Emperor Copronymos and appeared before him.

Copronymos asked General Michael: "How many are there?"

The General answered: "40 Hieromonks, 342 Monks and the Abbot."

In a rage Copronymos addressed the monks: "Worthless Monks! Recalcitrant and reactionary in my kingdom, come before me! I am Constantine the Fifth and I do not banter."

One monk with a smile on his face approached the Emperor, Sinesios by name, and he said: "Copronymos! We are children of Theosteriktos and learned from our Elder to trample upon the head of the devil and the Iconoclasts."

By saying this, the Monk Sinesios sealed his fate. The Emperor ordered his immediate beheading.

After this the Emperor questioned the monks one by one, and had each of those who abided by the Orthodox Faith to be beheaded at that moment. As the heart of Copronymos rejoiced, the blood of dozens of holy monks ran like a river.

Following the slaughter, the Emperor ordered Theosteriktos to approach him. The Saint approached with joy for the opportunity to confess his Faith, yet with sadness and tears also for such a horror displayed.

In a loud rage the Emperor yelled:

"Murderer! Executioner! You killed 780 of your children on a whim, in order to not throw away your idols which you call icons. Murderer, you will be known in the history books as committing infanticide."

The Abbot didn't say anything. He walked over to the wall where a painting of the Emperor hung, and he threw it down and trampled on it. He then said:

"Such dishonor is worthy of you, Copronymos. I am a venerator of the Venerable Icons and I thirst for this death. In fact, I'm in a rush to catch up with my golden and blessed children, my crown and praise."

Seeing the slaughter ensue, many soldiers and officials decided to rise up against the Emperor at that moment, and the Emperor cringed in fear. He then called for his chief officer to save him.

The chief officer raised his sword ready to cut off some heads, when suddenly the soldier Aimilios Teravinos grabbed his sword, made the sign of the Cross, and took out of his breast an Icon of Christ. He then yelled loudly:

"Cursed Copronymos, Heretic, I am a venerator of the Venerable Icons. Slay me."

The head of Aimilios fell, and the Emperor retired for the night.

The next day the Emperor called forth again the Abbot, and receiving from him the same answers, it was ordered that his nose, ears and fingers be cut off. Then with pliers strips of skin were pulled from his body, and in a bloody state he was thrown into a dark prison where he was not to be given neither food or water, in order to die there.

Yet Abbot Theosteriktos survived in this prison for nine years, thanks to the generosity of certain soldiers who sneaked in bread and water.

In the year Copronymos died, Leo IV, his son, succeeded him to the throne. Though frail in body, he had a merciful soul. Leo freed all prisoners who venerated the Sacred Icons. Abbot Theosteriktos was released also and brought back to his Monastery, which now lay in ruin.

Theosteriktos received offers from nearby monasteries to take him in, but he refused, preferring rather to live in his own Monastery, where he had lived with his children and lived happily. In the corner of the ruins he built himself a wooden hut and decided to live there for the rest of his life alone. It was there, among the ruins of his Monastery and after the experience of so much suffering, that he at some point composed the Small Paraklesis Canon to the Theotokos.

He began:

With continuous temptations surrounding me,
Searching for salvation,
I have hastened unto you;
O Mother of the Word, and Virgin,
From all distresses and dangers deliver me.

After three years in seclusion, new monastics came to this holy Elder, who had no fingers, nose or ears, and asked him to be their abbot. Daring not to go against the will of God, Theosteriktos took them under his supervision, and within months 800 monks gathered in the Monastery.

Abbot Theosteriktos lived another 25 years with his Brotherhood, and the Pelekete Monastery was revived. On the 17th of March in 807, the soul of Theosteriktos met his martyred children, and the last words of Saints Theosteriktos are said to have been:

"Your precious Icon we venerate, O Good One, pleading forgiveness for our transgressions, Christ God...".

* Constantine V was nicknamed "Copronymos" for defecating in his baptismal font, or, as other sources report, the imperial purple cloth with which he was swaddled. At this incident, Patriarch Germanos, who baptized him, is said to have prophesied that the child would one day bring some foul heresy upon the Church, which he did, becoming a notorious Iconoclast as emperor. His derogatory nickname "Copronymos" (lit. the Dung-named) derives from kopros (dung, feces) and onoma (name). This could be one reason why he forbade the baptism of infants.

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