Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Holy Hieromartyr Jacob of Hamatoura

St. Jacob of Hamatoura (Feast Day - October 13 and July 3)

The rock-cut Hamatoura Monastery in Kousba, Lebanon is a Greek Orthodox Monastery, belonging to the Patriarchate of Antioch, and its one of the oldest in the country. The Monastery is dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, but it is more widely know as Hamatoura Monastery, which is the name of the mountain the Monastery is built in.

Late in the 13th century, at the Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos on Hamatoura, Saint Jacob began his ascetic life. Later, when the Monastery was destroyed by the Mamelukes,* he reestablished monasticism along the perimeter of the ruined Monastery. In time, he rebuilt the Monastery, regenerating and giving renewed vigor to monastic life in the area. His spiritual briskness, vivacity, and popularity among believers drew the attention of the Mamelukes who set their minds to stop his enthusiasm and determination and force him to convert to Islam. He adamantly refused their relentless pressures.

When the Mamelukes' horrible coercive attempts failed, they dragged Saint Jacob, along with a number of monks and laymen, from Saint George's Monastery, situated atop Mount Hamatoura, to Tripoli (the capital of Northern Lebanon) and handed him to the wali (ruler). For almost a year, he endured tremendous tortures. Nevertheless, he did not give in or renounce his faith despite receiving both adulations and threats from the Mamelukes. Although intimidated by the uncompromising Saint Jacob and his persistence, finally, as was their custom in punishing their enemies, on October 13th, Saint Jacob was beheaded. In addition, the Mamelukes burned his body to ensure the Church would not give him an honorable burial as a martyr, a burial befitting a saint.

Not long after his death, seeing his sufferings and steadfast faith, our Lord bestowed on him everlasting crowns and graces and today he shines as a martyr as much as he was a beacon during his earthly life. At this time the Church announced Saint Jacob's holiness and added him to her list of honored Martyr Saints and prayed for his intercession.

Our Saint was almost forgotten in the course of history. This was due to the severe sufferings of the Church under various Muslim sultanates that both weakened Christian spiritual life and resulted in a noticeable drop of Christian literacy. Additionally, all manuscripts and information that could have been sent and translated abroad were either forgotten, lost, or destroyed. However, recorded encounters by the Monastery's pilgrims, upon seeing visions of Saint Jacob, and many others who sensed his presence, affirmed and authenticated his sainthood. Glorifying the name of Lord, Saint Jacob also healed many.

Recently a clear mention of Saint Jacob was discovered in a manuscript preserved at the Balamand Monastery in a Gerontikon (a hagiography or compilation of biographical short stories of the lives of holy saints). In a Balamand archival manuscript, numbered 149, it clearly indicates that the Church commemorates his memory on October 13th. The Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos of Kousba, Hamatoura, in Lebanon, commemorated his memory for the first time on the 13th of October 13th 2002, in an all-night prayer vigil. A number of priests, deacons, and believers participated on that memorable day, as the attendees chanted Saint Jacob's Divine Service, prepared and edited by the Monastery's monks.

Saint Jacob has always been present with the faithful: appearing to some and blessing them, healing others, and he has repeatedly been heard by monks and visitors, chanting in the church, encouraging them go deeper in their spiritual lives. He even asked a faithful woman once to inform the monks that he will show them his grave, but they disregarded the subject. On July 3rd, 2008 while renewing the church floor, human bones were found buried in the chapel with a little grave containing two human skeletons, showing marks of torture and beating, some coagulated blood and some liquid blood on the skull. They also found a part of a three year old child's skull with some of his bones, and two other skeletons. According to modern laboratory testing conducted by Naji Saaiby M.D. who specializes in legal medicine, they date back 650 years. One of these last two skeletons shows marks of fire, he was also decapitated and his second neck vertebra was lost. What this implies according to the criteria of the Balamand manuscript is that it is Saint Jacob's skeleton who was in his fifties when he was killed, his companion who was in his forties, and as for the rest of the skeletons they date to 450 years ago.

The monks of old considered these relics holy, since they did not bury them in common graves, but in the middle of the church, and in a hastened way as a result of pressures and persecutions. Under the Holy Altar were found some parts of a child's skull, therefore the monks considered them martyrs. The church was reconsecrated on October 16, 1894 (114 years ago) because it was vandalized.

Relics of the Holy Martyrs of Hamatoura

After the blessing Metropoliton George of Byblos and Botrys, the Orthodox can add to their prayers the phrase: "The Martyred Father of Hamatoura", whose relics were found in the Monastery chapel. In addition to Saint Jacob, they will be commemorated on July 3rd, the date of the finding of their holy relics.

Today, believers and pilgrims are constantly reporting his apparitions, miraculous healings and other Grace-filled deeds. All of this kindled the spiritual fervor to celebrate the memory of this Saint and give Praise to the Lord, while honoring Saint Jacob of Hamatoura who is still living among us in his Monastery performing miraculous deeds, calls, and visitations to believers.

* Mamelukes were members of the Muslim sultanate, virtual rulers of Egypt (1250-1517). They were defeated by Napoleon in the Battle of the Pyramids (1798), and destroyed by Muhammad Ali (1811). The Mamelukes were originally a mounted military force, recruited from Circassian or Turkish slaves who converted to Islam, and brought up in the courts of Muslim rulers or caliphs.

Short Film About Hamatoura Monastery

See the animation of the Martyrdom of Saint Jacob, here.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
As a cedar of Lebanon groweth without fear of martyrdom and death, thou didst become a victor, O Father Jacob. Thou didst conquer death in thy body when by humility thou didst control the passions, and when thou wast burnt like incense as a sacrifice. Intercede with Christ to grant us great mercy.

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