Friday, July 24, 2015

Saint Theophilos the New Martyr of Zakynthos (+ 1635)

St. Theophilos of Zakynthos (Feast Day - July 24)


Theophilos was burned in Chios,
Finding friendship with God - O the good fortune!

Theophilos was born in Zakynthos in 1617. He was a seaman by profession. While on a voyage he had a dispute with the ship's captain, who acted in a very disrespectful manner. When the ship arrived at Chios, its destination and the home island of the captain, Theophilos left his service. At that point, a certain Turk whom he met there offered to take him aboard his own ship. Because the man was a Muslim, however, Theophilos did not want to work for him or have anything more to do with him. The Turk was persistent, and he would not take "No" for an answer. When Theophilos resisted, the Turk had no other recourse but to slander. He began to accuse him of wearing a Turkish fez, a type of headgear that was prohibited to Christians. Then with others the Turk beat him and dragged him before the Turkish authorities. In front of the judge, they presented their false testimony, that he had been wearing a fez, and so demanded that he must become a Muslim.

Hearing these accusations, Theophilos could not be shaken from his faith in Christ. The usual procedure was followed by the authorities — first, tempt him with flattery and promises of reward, and then if that didn't work, threaten him with harsh punishments and death. In response to all this, Theophilos would cry out: "I will never deny my Christ. Him I believe, and Him I confess."

In spite of their failure to convert him, Theophilos was forcibly circumcised (the sign of Islamic membership), which is against Islamic law, and then it was decided to send him on to Constantinople as a "gift" for the sultan, because he was very good looking and only 18 years old. Their plan was aborted, however, for Theophilos, not wishing to be a play-thing of the Sultan, escaped that evening during one of the Muslim prayer times.

He hid himself for three days and nights while they searched for him, but he hadn't any food, and he was very hungry. He went to the home of the captain that he had parted from, who gave him food. Then he hid out in a church till he could escape the island and caught a boat going to Samos, where he stayed for awhile. Not being able to stay there, he returned to Chios and to his former captain, but very quickly he was recognized by those Turks who had accused him. They had him arrested and again brought before the Turkish judge.

After numerous hearings at court, and numerous beatings and tortures, because Theophilos would not convert to Islam (which his accusers now claimed he had been a member of, and had abandoned — remember, they had circumcised him), the judge sentenced him to death by being burned alive.

The Turks brought Theophilos to a place in front of the Church of Saint George the Great Martyr and started a huge fire. In their cruelty, they forced him to carry the wood to fuel it and to load it to such a height that he could be placed inside the heap. They say the fire was so high and blazed so bright that you could see your way to Chios town at evening by its light.

Entering the flames of his own will, Theophilos began to chant in the midst of them: "O God of our fathers, blessed are You…" Then, making the sign of the cross, he prayed, and cried out: "Into Your hands, my Christ, I commend my soul!" and he surrendered his soul into the hands of God, receiving the crown of martyrdom on the 24th day of July, 1635.

Now, God who glorifies those who glorify Him, honored the martyr not only in heaven but on earth as well. For at the destruction of his flesh, a strong and wonderful fragrance emanated from the fire to the comfort of the Christians and the discomfort of the Muslims watching his end. Therefore, to mask the fragrance and to dishonor the martyr whose life they had just taken, the Turks threw a swine into the fire so the air might reek of burning flesh rather than of the fragrant relics of the confessor of Christ. But in vain did they connive. As soon as the flames touched the bound feet of the pig, it escaped and ran. The fire continued burning its sweet incense to the risen Christ, and Theophilos joined the innumerable host of martyrs of Christ.

The remaining relics of St. Theophilos were purchased by the Christians for a sizeable amount and placed in the Church of the Great Martyr George in Chios, where they were venerated by the faithful and worked many miracles. His service and martyrdom were compiled by the seventeenth century Greek physician and theologian from Chios, George Koresios.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
You courageously confessed God incarnate, you spit upon the unbelieving teachings of the Hagarenes. You were burnt by them with fire, spreading fragrance through the earth, O thrice-blessed Theophilos, the true friend of God. Rejoice therefore, neomartyr of Christ. Rejoice, boast of the Church. Rejoice, offspring of Zakynthos and the ornament of Chios.

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