April 29, 2009

The Holy Apostles Jason and Sosipater and the Island of Kerkyra

Sts. Jason and Sosipater the Apostles (Feast Day - April 29th)

These Saints and Apostles of the first century, celebrated today, I found to be interesting because of the archaeology that supports their history as enlighteners of the island of Kerkyra (known also as Corfu).

They arrived on the island of Kerkyra about 40 AD and we are told they are responsible for Christianizing the island, one of the first cities in all of Greece to be Christianized.

We are informed they built a church dedicated to Saint Stephen the Protomartyr. If true this means that even the apostles built churches and dedicated them to martyrs and saints. Possible evidence for this lies in the fact that many streets and locations in the area today are named after Saint Stephen (Agios Stephanos).

Furthermore, the church currently named after Saints Jason and Sosipater is the only church from the Roman Empire (built around 1000 AD) on the island and it is built on top of an older church built centuries earlier, probably from the first century according to archaeologists, that bear inscriptions with the names of the two Apostles. On top of that, the church claims to even contain the relics of the Saints inside the church [the heads of the Apostles are in Hosios Loukas Monastery near Thebes]. The current church was the katholikon of a monastery in Roman times. Katherine, wife of Thomas Palaiologos (brother of the last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI), sought refuge in this monastery when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453.

The Life and Ministry of the Holy Apostles Jason and Sosipater and the Virgin-Martyr Kerkyra

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

The first two were among the Seventy Apostles, and the last was the daughter of the king of the island of Corfu. The Apostle Paul mentions Jason and Sosipater (Rom. 16:21), and calls them his kinsmen.

Jason was born in Tarsus, as was the Apostle Paul himself, and Sosipater in Achaea. The first was nominated by the Apostles as Bishop of Tarsus and the second as Bishop of Iconium.

Travelling and preaching the Gospel, these two apostles came to the island of Corfu, where they succeeded in building a church dedicated to St Stephen the Protomartyr and in bringing some unbelievers to the Church.

The king of the island [Kerkylinus] threw them into prison, where there were seven robbers already imprisoned: Satorninus, Jakischolus, Faustian, Januarius, Marsalus, Euphrasius and Mamminus. The apostles brought all seven of them to the Christian faith, making wolves into lambs. The king commanded that these seven be put to death in boiling pitch, and they thus received the wreath of martyrdom.

When, after this, the king was in process of questioning the apostles, his daughter Kerkyra, looking through a window, saw the torture of these men of God and, discovering the reason for it, proclaimed herself a Christian and gave all her jewels away to the poor. The king was filled with wrath against his daughter and shut her up in a separate prison, then, failing to turn her from Christ, ordered that the prison be burned down. The prison burned to the ground, but the maiden remained alive. Seeing this wonder, many of the people were baptized. The furious king ordered that his daughter be bound to a tree and killed with arrows.

Those who had come to believe in Christ fled from the terrible king to a nearby island and hid themselves. The king set off in a boat to arrest them, but his boat overturned in the sea and thus the unrighteous perished, as Pharaoh aforetime.

The new king accepted the Christian faith and was baptized, receiving the name Sebastian. Jason and Sosipater freely preached the Gospel and strengthened the Church of God in Corfu to great old age [some say Sosipater was martyred before the death of Jason by being burned to death], and there finished their earthly course and went to the courts of the Lord.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
O Holy Apostles, intercede to our merciful God, that He may grant our souls forgiveness of sins.

Kontakion in the Plagal of the Second Tone
Being illuminated with the teachings of Paul, ye became luminaries unto the whole world, O thrice-blessed ones; for ye ever shine upon the world with miracles, O Jason, thou fountain of healings, and Sosipater, thou glory of the Martyrs of Christ. O God-bearing Apostles, ye protectors of them that be in need, entreat God that our souls be saved.

The Roman/Byzantine Church of Saints Jason and Sosipater. The building dates roughly to the year 1000, but two recessed inscriptions on the two sides of the central entry tell us that it would have been constructed on the site of an older monument. The previous church may have possibly been destroyed during the Slavic invasions a few decades earlier.

The Church of Sts. Jason and Sosipater on Kerkyra (supposedly the sole church of Roman architecture on the island). Here are preserved relics of Sts. Jason and Sosipater (their skulls are in the Monastery of Hosios Loukas in mainland Greece), and I believe also the tomb of the martyred prison guard, St. Anthony, honored as one of the first martyrs of the island.