|St. Hilarion the New Martyr of Crete (Feast Day - September 20)|
Hilarion seized a double crown,
That of an ascetic and athlete of the Lord.
On the twentieth Hilarion mightily submitted his fate to the sword.
Saint Hilarion was born to pious Orthodox Christians, Francisco and Katherine, in the city of Heraklion in Crete, and had four siblings: two brothers named Polyzoes and George, and two sisters whose names are not known to us. Hilarion's birth name was John.
As a young man John went to live with his uncle in Constantinople, with the understanding that his uncle would see to his professional education. But though John lived with his uncle for ten years, his uncle completely neglected his education. Instead John took a job as a clerk with a merchant.
One day the merchant left for his homeland on the island of Chios, and left John with another Christian employee in charge of the business. However, unfortunately for John, the merchant never took an inventory.
Upon his return the merchant thought that he was cheated, claiming the money collected while he was away did not equal the price of the goods sold. The employees were thirty grosia short, but because the other employee had been with the merchant for many years, it was John who was accused of taking the money. Moreover, John was threatened that if he did not return the money there would be dire consequences.
Though John was innocent of what his employer accused him of, he ran off to his uncle to seek his assistance. But his uncle refused to see him. Disappointed and desperate, he went to the palace of the Sultan to seek assistance from the mother of the Sultan. There he encountered an Ethiopian eunuch, Mertzan Aga, who was in charge of that part of the palace. John knew him and was comfortable telling him his story and asked from him advice as to what he should do. The Ethiopian aga counseled John to become a Muslim and thereby become immune to any punishment. John accepted this proposal.
John was immediately circumcised, given new Muslim clothing, received gifts, and was assigned a hodja to instruct him of the tenets of the Islamic faith. But after three days, John realized the enormity of his sin by abandoning his faith in Christ, and sought an opportunity to escape his situation. Twelve days later he managed to escape the palace and boarded a ship for the Crimea, where he remained for ten months.
While in Crimea John became very remorseful for his apostasy, and understood that the only way to repay his sin was to confess his faith where he denied it and die a martyric death. He therefore returned to Constantinople, and consulted with a known spiritual father named Father Symeon and an ascetic named Jeremiah. They advised John to go instead to Mount Athos and enter Iveron Monastery. John obeyed their advice.
While at Iveron Monastery, the fathers there sent him to the Skete of Saint Anna to place him under the spiritual direction of Elder Bessarion, who one year prior accompanied Saint Luke the Neomartyr (March 23) to Mytilene where he faced martyrdom. After undergoing strict asceticism and fasting, John was tonsured a monk and took the name Hilarion. Shortly afterwards Hilarion told his Elder that he was ready to return to Constantinople and confess Christ. Elder Bessarion gave his blessing, communed him, and accompanied him to Constantinople.
When Hilarion arrived in Constantinople, he presented himself at the palace where he converted to Islam. There he told the Ethiopian aga responsible for his apostasy that he had returned to the light of truth and now anathematized Islam. Saying this, Hilarion took off his Muslim turban and threw it to the floor and put on his monastic cap which he had under his coat. This angered the aga and he had Hilarion beaten and tortured mercilessly, to the point where his bones became visible. Seeing that John remained steadfast in his faith in Christ, the Saint was sentenced to beheading, and by this received two crowns, one for asceticism and the other for martyrdom, on September 20, 1804.
After the beheading of the Holy Martyr, Elder Bessarion with other Christians gave him a Christian burial and took some of his blood as a relic. One day Bessarion was invited into a Christian home and the children were brought before him to receive his blessing. One of them, a girl of around eight years old, was possessed by a hidden demon and showed signs of her possession. She became darkened, made various physical movements, and fell down as if she was dead. The Elder took out some of the blood of Saint Hilarion to anoint the girl, but before he even touched her the demon departed and the girl got up and returned to normal. A portion of the Saint's relics can be found today at Kykkos Monastery in Cyprus.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
With ascetic living you subdued the adversary, with struggles you divinely glorified Christ the Life-giver, therefore Venerable Martyr Hilarion, we entreat you to pray to God for those who honor you, for their forgiveness and healing of body and soul.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
With tears of repentance you were reconciled with the Lord. In the arena of martyrdom you defeated the one who wounded you. You were fully distinguished by the pains of abstinence and bravely accepted martyrdom for Christ. And for this, Hilarion, you were worthy of pure glory.
Rejoice, divine offspring of Heraklion, participant of Venerable Martyrs. You shone brightly in asceticism and struggle, and accepted the incorruptible crown from the Lord.